Obama Campaign Now Employing Jedi Mind Tricks

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/barackobamadotcom/8072288318/sizes/z/in/photostream/">Barack Obama</a>/Flickr

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.

I wrote a long piece for the current issue of the magazine (on newstands now!) about the Obama re-election team’s efforts at constructing the “smart campaign.” The tl;dr version is that Chicago is using data-mining, analytics, and behavioral science to a degree that hasn’t been attempted before—all with the goals of squeezing their supporters for cash and volunteer hours and coaxing sympathetic voters to the polls.

One of the easiest ways to see this in action is through the fundraising emails the Obama campaign sends out, which vary substantially depending on the audience. ProPublica, which set out to track these emails last spring, found that a single pitch comes in no fewer than 11 different flavors. Any interaction you have with that an email—whether you responded with a donation, or whether you just clicked through at all—can be tracked by the campaign. That helps them learn a little bit about you, but it also helps them learn a little bit about themselves; they can send out blasts to randomized samples to determine what works and what doesn’t.

And now, with four weeks to go until election day, here’s the latest pitch I received in my inbox, nominally from the campaign’s COO, Ann Marie Habershaw:

Supporter ID number? Passive-aggressive receipt? Sounds like a Jedi mind trick.

Or maybe it’s just behavioral science—something Democratic groups have been experimenting with increasingly through the work of the electioneering think-tank, the Analyst Institute. As Sasha Issenberg chronicles in his new book, Victory Lab, in 2010 Democrats sent out mailers to Colorado Democrats in advance of the midterm election, thanking them personally for voting in 2008—and then thanking them in advance for voting in 2010. The passive-aggressive mailers boosted turnout among recipients by 2.5 percent. As Issenberg puts it, they were “designed to push buttons that many voters didn’t even know they had.”

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate